KENNEDY SPACE CENTER (FL), August 3, 2020 – SpaceX and NASA completed the historic Demo-2 mission on Sunday, wherein American astronauts were launched to the International Space Station (ISS) from U.S. soil for the first time since 2011 and then returned safely to Earth after more than two-months aboard the orbiting laboratory. The crew members on this mission, NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, were the first astronauts to launch, dock with the ISS, and safely splash back down on Earth’s surface onboard a commercially owned spacecraft designed for low-Earth orbit transportation.
Following the success of this important launch and the safe return of the crew, the focus of the space community is now shifting toward NASA’s next Commercial Crew Program demonstration mission slated for later this year. That mission will send four astronauts to the ISS onboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for a long-duration stint on station to further basic and applied scientific research, advance technologies for NASA’s exploration ambitions, and continue progress toward our nation’s goal of developing a market economy in low-Earth orbit where NASA is one of many customers.
While the SpaceX Demo-2 mission will be lauded in history for its many firsts, the mission also contributed to valuable scientific research conducted on the ISS. During Hurley and Behnken’s 62 days onboard the space station, the two supported critical ISS mission objectives that included the execution of multiple research experiments, several of which were sponsored by the ISS U.S. National Laboratory. Below provides a snapshot of ISS National Lab investigations that Hurley and Behnken worked on during their time on the space station:
- Qlibrium™ (formerly Cam Med Inc.) is a company that designs and builds microfluidics-based medical devices aimed at improving quality of life for patients. Qlibrium™ has developed QForma™—the first ultra-thin wearable pump that can deliver one or more medications through the skin. The pump adheres to a patient’s skin and infuses medications instead of injecting them. While many current drug delivery pumps are bulky and complex, QForma™ is designed to be small and discrete. Space-based research is important to Qlibrium™ because the functional absence of gravity reduces some complexities of the physical environment, allowing more thorough studies in microfluidics—and results could help the company further enhance QForma™.
- Boston-based biotech startup 1Drop Diagnostics has created a portable device that can run diagnostic tests from anywhere using just one drop of blood. 1Drop Diagnostics’ device contains specially designed microfluidic chips, and the company is doing research on the ISS to better understand fluid flow through the chips’ small channels. Through their space-based research, 1Drop Diagnostics seeks to advance next-generation medical diagnostics that could reduce health care costs and provide better health outcomes for patients back on Earth.
- Delta Faucet Company’s innovative H2OKinetic® technology is designed to control the size and speed of water droplets as they leave the shower head. The technology uses fewer water drops, but because the drops are larger and are moving faster, it creates a feeling of increased pressure using less water. This not only conserves water but also creates a better user experience. The effects of gravity on water droplet formation are not fully understood, and by studying water droplet formation and flow in microgravity, Delta Fauce Company hopes to uncover underlying phenomena related to the fluid physics of droplet formation and behavior. This novel information could enable new designs that allow for more precise control of water droplets to further enhance the ability of the shower head to conserve water and improve customer experience.
All three of these investigations were supported by Ohio-based engineering services company ZIN Technologies. Additionally, both the Qlibrium™ (formerly Cam Med Inc.) and 1DropDiagnostics investigations stemmed from the MassChallenge accelerator program. Over the past several years, Boeing and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), manager of the ISS National Lab, have collaborated to select and fund more than a dozen startup companies identified through the MassChallenge program with ideas for innovative space-based research to enhance their business models.
“On behalf of the ISS National Lab, we congratulate NASA and SpaceX for this historic and successful Demo-2 mission, which laid the foundation for future human spaceflight missions to the orbiting laboratory by commercial companies from Florida’s Space Coast,” said CASIS Chief Operating Officer and NASA Liaison Ken Shields. “This renewed capability of launching astronauts from American soil to our industrial incubator in low-Earth orbit will enhance the visibility, accessibility, and opportunities that result from sending science beyond Earth’s horizons. Lastly, thank you to Bob and Doug for your courage and dedication in supporting this Demo-2 mission and for your diligence in assisting with a multitude of science and technology experiments during your time on station that may pave the way for future discoveries not possible on this planet.”
Under the Commercial Crew Program, both Boeing and SpaceX are developing spacecraft capable of launching astronauts to the orbiting laboratory from the U.S., while also improving capabilities for launching and returning science. Returning to a stable rotation of four U.S. Operating Segment crew members effectively doubles the amount of time available for conducting space-based research and technology development, thus helping to establish a sustainable market in low-Earth orbit while also providing value and knowledge to our nation.
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About the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory: In 2005, Congress designated the U.S. portion of the ISS as the nation’s newest national laboratory to optimize its use for improving quality of life on Earth, promoting collaboration among diverse users, and advancing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. This unique laboratory environment is available for use by non-NASA U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The ISS National Lab manages access to the permanent microgravity research environment, a powerful vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space.
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